Since 2016, we have been supporting the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement in Myanmar to improve social assistance services for the most vulnerable groups.
Henlo van Nieuwenhuyzen, Nick Travis, Stephanie Allan United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)
Over the past decade, Myanmar has been undergoing a so-called “triple transition” – supporting peace initiatives in the border areas, progressing towards democratic governance, and promoting market-oriented economy.
Part of this transition has involved reorienting the role of the state towards service delivery. The increase in fiscal space since 2010 has enabled the Government to expand the size of its budget, initiating new expenditure programmes across a wide number of sectors.
However, the budget for social welfare has remained persistently low – historically accounting for approximately 0.1% of total government expenditure. This has significantly limited the ability of the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement (MSWRR) to deliver on its mandate of protecting and supporting vulnerable groups.
We have been working with UNICEF and the Ministry to address this challenge by strengthening capacity in public expenditure management to support the case for higher levels of investment in the sector.
We aimed to strengthen public financial management (PFM) systems and processes within the MSWRR to improve the overall budgeting approach, increase the level of transparency, and generate more data and information for monitoring purposes. This in turn will help the MSWRR to justify higher budget allocations from the Ministry of Planning and Finance, and ensuring it can better support the most vulnerable groups.
Low budget allocations for social welfare have partly been due to the perceived lack of capacity within the MSWRR to manage additional funding effectively. This is due to several challenges arising from historical PFM practices, such as the lack of a strategic prioritisation process, the use of incremental line-item budgeting, the absence of a robust expenditure reporting system, and a lack of basic procedures and financial management skills.
These systemic challenges have typically resulted in budgets that are hard to interpret and inherently difficult for the Ministry to report results in an informative way – making it hard to create a solid case for higher budget allocations in future years.
We have been working collaboratively with UNICEF Myanmar to help address these challenges through the provision of technical support and capacity building to the Ministry.
We led a comprehensive review of current planning and budgeting practices within the MSWRR in order to identify key weaknesses within the expenditure management system. Following this situation analysis, we designed a package of support activities to address some of the observed weaknesses, including:
- developing a strategic framework for the Department of Social Welfare that incorporated priorities for various thematic plans into a coherent single departmental approach
- facilitating strategic prioritisation processes to help MSWRR determine which activities from its strategic framework should be included in its annual budget submission
- introducing “narrative template” to strengthen budget presentation by enabling the inclusion of information on past results, performance targets for the following year, and evidence to support additional funding
- developing an Excel-based expenditure tracking tool to automate and consolidate expenditure reports submitted from all spending units at national and sub-national levels
- developing an electronic database to digitalise historical and future data on departmental spending trends and drafting a budget brief for the Department of Social Welfare.
By strengthening internal PFM processes and strategically engaging with the Ministry of Planning and Finance, the project has helped the MSWRR to secure consistent increases in its budget allocation year on year. The Department of Social Welfare budget has increased almost eight-fold over three years between 2016-17 and 2019-20.
The narrative template has been enthusiastically embraced as a tool utilised during the budget hearing process with the Ministry of Planning and Finance, and Parliament to defend proposed programme expenditure allocations.
Support to strategic prioritisation has helped to ensure that the increase in funds have been allocated to important social programmes (e.g. cash transfers, case management, victim support etc.) for a significant positive impact on the most vulnerable groups in Myanmar.
Finally, the automation of expenditure reporting has enabled real-time monitoring of budget implementation which wasn’t previously possible, while the publication of the social welfare budget brief has enabled greater transparency over the mandate and activities of the MSWRR.